Really, Benjamin Franklin?

One of our country’s founding myths is the story of Benjamin Franklin, of one hundred dollar bill fame, exiting the constitutional convention and being approached by a woman eager to hear what the framers had wrought. Supposedly leaning out of his carriage, he responded, to centuries of acclaim, “A Republic [Madam], if you can keep it”. Some view this as an inspirational reminder that a nation is not just its set of founding documents, but a set of ideals that must be continually maintained. I am all for this idea, but without wishing to malign Franklin, I think it is important to step back and remind ourselves of the absurdity of this interaction.

Franklin had just participated in a convention that had created a structure that made it extremely difficult to pass any new laws, since three bodies elected on different cycles had to agree simultaneously. Amendments to the document he had been working on were to be even harder, requiring supermajorities in Congress and three fourths of the states. Yet the implication of his words is that if the Republic should fail, the blame would be entirely on the citizens this structure was imposed upon, not on the men doing the imposing.

Oh, and speaking of the men doing the imposing, Franklin was speaking to a woman who was not even going to get to vote on any of this stuff.